“Avoid committing the mistake of posting fake content online to avoid losing credibility”.
These were the words of advice of BJP chief Amit Shah to his party’s “social media warriors” on 21 June at BJP social media meet in Delhi. Among the many who attended the event was Prashant Patel Umrao – an individual who ironically owes his presence on social media to fake news.
Shah’s address at NDMC Convention Centre was organised bearing in mind the significance of online platforms and their influence in the country’s general elections scheduled next year.
If Umrao is to take a bigger role in this regard, history serves as evidence that the 31-year-old’s relentless peddling of misinformation on social media would persist.
Alt News has on several occasions called out Umrao’s trysts with misinformation, which are, more often than not communal and hateful in nature.
1. “280 Orphan Minor Girls Made Pregnant in Teresa Missionary”
On 9 July, Delhi High Court lawyer Prashant Patel Umrao falsely claimed in a tweet that “280 orphan minor girls were made pregnant in Teresa missionary and their babies sent abroad for trafficking.”
He has now deleted the tweet but not before it was viral on social media. Alt News has archived its cached version that can be accessed here.
Umrao’s claim was made at the backdrop of Missionaries of Charity (MoC), Ranchi coming under fire for allegedly selling babies to childless couples. A nun and another employee of Nirmal Hriday, a shelter home run by Mother Teresa’s charity, were arrested last week for allegedly selling three babies and giving away one for “free”.
Alt News spoke to Ranchi SSP Anish Gupta and ADGP RK Mallick who confirmed to us that the four babies have been rescued from within the country and the claim that “280 children are missing and that they have been trafficked abroad” is completely false. Umrao’s hyperbole of the situation by giving it a communal colour was baseless since the police have also denied that minor girls were impregnated in MoC homes.
2. “Muslim Lawyer, Community Filed Petition in SC Against Hindu Ritual”
On July 6, Umrao claimed that the “Muslim community filed a petition in the Supreme Court against holding ‘Mata ki Chowki’ and other Hindu rituals at public spaces”. He tweeted the false claim, ending it with the question – “Should Hindus allow Namaz and Muharram on roads?”
After causing the intended damage, Patel deleted his tweet in a day, however, Alt News has archived its cached version that can be accessed here.
Patel’s claim was far from the truth as the petition was neither filed by ‘Muslims’ nor was it against the ritual. It was in fact in favour of the ritual and was filed by an organisation, Jyoti Jagran Manch, that was denied permission by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to hold ‘Mata ki Chowki’ and ‘jagran’ (overnight prayer meeting) at a park in South-West Delhi.
The lawyer fighting for ‘Mata ki Chowki’ was also dragged into the controversy as he was a Muslim and people assumed he was opposing the ritual in court. The advocate had to put out a statement on Twitter to clarify that he was in favour of ‘Mata ki Chowki’.
3. Umrao’s Rumour-Mongering on the ‘Tanvi Seth Passport Issue’
After Tanvi Seth, in a series of tweets, informed External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj that she and her husband were allegedly humiliated by Lucknow passport officer Vikas Mishra for being an interfaith couple and Mishra was subsequently transferred, an abusive Twitter campaign targeted EAM Sushma Swaraj. In the midst of the hate spewed on social media, Prashant Patel Umrao propagated a lot of misinformation.
He falsely claimed that Swaraj launched Passport Seva mobile application on 27 June and changed rules retrospectively to “save Sadia Anas Siddiqui (Tanvi Seth) & hide her mistake.” He further alleged that Tanvi provided a wrong residential address, she was earlier denied H1 visa and that NDTV journalist Kamal Khan conspired with Tanvi and her husband to give the issue a communal angle.
Alt News has debunked all the aforementioned false claims here.
4. “No Rape in Kathua Case”
Dainik Jagran on 20 April published a report saying – “No rape of the girl in Kathua, postmortem report only talks of injuries.” The article contradicted the post-mortem report, however, several right-wing handles on Twitter took this as an opportunity to claim that the 8-year-old wasn’t raped. Among the ones quick to make the assumption was Prashant Patel Umrao.
As it turned out, Alt News accessed the post-mortem report of the Katha victim that showed injuries to the child’s sexual regions. We also spoke to a forensic expert who works with rape victims and sex offenders. He told us that the information based on post-mortem reports does suggest sexual assault. Patel’s highly insensitive tweet was not based on facts.
5. “Rajdeep Sardesai Called for the Killing of Thousand Hindus”
In a tweet dated 28 July 28, 2012, Umrao attributed a fake quote to senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, claiming that he called for the killing of a thousand Hindus. He deleted the tweet later but its archived version can be accessed here.
Sardesai filed a police complaint against Umrao and he retaliated by personally attacking the journalist. He tweeted that Sardesai’s son got admission in Kasturba Medical College, Manipal University through NRI quota and by paying Rs 1 crore. He further accused Sardesai of threatening and arm-twisting medical colleges for admission of his “average” son.
Patel’s claims were proved false after Sardesai shared the admission order received from Manipal University. It mentioned his son’s rank as 1,050 and also clearly stated that the admission was in ‘General’ category and not in the NRI category. Sardesai threatened Umrao and Twitter India with a Rs 100 crore defamation suit for propagating the fake news.
6. “AMU Denied Hindu Student Admission on Religious Grounds”
Earlier in June, Patel tweeted that a Hindu student was not allowed to sit for the entrance exam of Aligarh Muslim University because he was wearing a ‘kalawa’ or the sacred thread. Over 3,000 people retweeted his claim.
On contacting AMU, Alt News found that Umrao’s tweet was false information and an attempt to fan rumours along communal lines. AMU did not deny admission to the student because of his religion, but as he failed to secure the mandatory 55% in LLB – an eligibility criterion to appear for the exam. Alt News was also able to access the application form of the candidate which confirmed that the student’s score at the undergraduate level did not meet the eligibility criteria.
7. “Rohith Vemula’s Mother Was Offered Money by Muslim League to Speak Against PM Modi”
Prashant Patel Umrao tweeted on 18 June that Radhika Vemula, mother of Hyderabad University (HoU) student Rohith Vemula who committed suicide in 2016, said she was promised Rs 20 lakh by Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in exchange for speaking against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He also claimed that she only received a cheque for Rs 2 lakh that bounced as well.
Alt News contacted Radhika Vemula who told us that the claims on social media are false and completely baseless. She also said that IUML gave her two cheques of Rs 2.5 lakh each and one of them was returned, not bounced, because of a spelling error.
8. “Swiss Couple Attacked by Members of Minority Community in UP”
In October 2017, in a shocking incident, a Swiss tourist couple was physically assaulted at Fatehpur Sikri in UP. The couple sustained grievous injuries and the report made international news. Prashant Patel Umrao was among those who spread the fake information. In a series of tweets, he claimed that it was members of the minority community who had attacked the Swiss couple.
However, it emerged that the assaulters were not from the minority community. The detailed report was published by Alt News and can be read here.
9. “Utkal Express Derailment in Muzaffarnagar Was a Terrorist Ploy to Kill Hindu Pilgrims”
When the Utkal Express derailed at Muzaffarnagar in UP in August 2017, Umrao was among those who spread rumours of conspiracy and sabotage. He alleged in a series of tweets that the accident was actually a terror ploy and claimed that clips of the railroad had been removed. He added that it could be a move to kill Hindu pilgrims.
In reality, there was no terror angle to the accident. A preliminary assessment had suggested human error to be the cause of the accident.
10. Character Assassination of Woman Stalked by Son of BJP Haryana President
When it was reported that Vikas Barala, the son of the President of Haryana BJP, had allegedly stalked a girl in Chandigarh following which a police complaint had been filed, Umrao was among those who went on an overdrive to shame the victim. He indulged in character assassination, posting an old photograph of the victim allegedly with her perpetrator.
As it turned out, the male in the picture was not the accused Vikas Barala. However, this did not prevent elements like Umrao from sharing such blatantly false and misleading information about the victim and later deleting the tweet.
11. Fake Viral Image of Bloodied Man Lathi-Charged in West Bengal
In June last year, Major Gaurav Arya, Republic TV’s Defence and Strategy advisor, fell for a fake viral image of a bloodied man, claiming him to be a victim of lathi-charge by West Bengal police against supporters of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM). Umrao was among those who shared the fake image. But later deleted the tweet.
After the Mamata Banerjee-led government announced Bengali as a compulsory subject in state schools, GJM supporters came out in thousands to oppose the diktat. In order to curb the agitation and disperse the mob, West Bengal police resorted to lathi-charge and fired tear gas shells. Several people including policemen were injured in these clashes. However, the image of the person being circulated was false as the man had passed away in March 2017.
12. Shared Image of Slaughtered Cow Head From Morocco as West Bengal
Umrao has often circulated false information about West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. In 2014, he circulated an image of a cow head from Fez Medina in Morocco, called the CM “Begum Mamta Bano” and claimed that the slaughtered animal was from Kolkata.
13. “Ravish Kumar’s Sister Suspended on Corruption Charges”
Senior journalist Ravish Kumar has often found himself in the crosshairs of fake news purveyors. Among those who claimed that his alleged sister, Nita Kumari Pandey, was suspended from a government post due to fake allegations was Prashant Patel Umrao.
It turned out that the person concerned against whom allegations had been made was not related to Ravish Kumar in any way. Nita Kumari Pandey’s own brother himself came forward and made this clarification on Facebook.
14. “9-12-Year-Old Pregnant Rohingya Girl Soon to Give Birth”
Umrao posted a picture of a minor girl on Twitter, saying that it was the photo of a 9-12-year-old pregnant Rohingya girl who was soon going to give birth.
His fakery was called out almost immediately after he posted the image. The photograph was actually of a Brazilian girl from Garrafão do Norte who was suffering from liver disease. Umrao quietly deleted his tweet without an apology.
15. “Hamid Ansari’s Budget Six Times That of the President”
In August 2017, Umrao was the source of the fake news claiming that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley allocated a budget of Rs 66 crore for the President but Rs 377.21 crore for the Vice President.
Prashant Patel Umrao’s claim was unsurprisingly false. The budget for the Vice President’s secretariat is nowhere near Rs 377.21 crores, nor is it six times that of the President. The budget of the Vice President’s secretariat in 2017-18 was Rs 5.3 crores and in 2016-17 it was Rs 4.61 crores. The Rs. 377.21 figure came from the budget for the Rajya Sabha in 2016-17 which was wrongly quoted as that of the Vice President. Alt News had published a detailed story on this, which can be accessed here.
Widespread Support for the Serial Purveyor of Misinformation
Alt News had in an earlier article revealed how Umrao is praised by BJP leaders. Umrao been prepping to secure his infamous space in the virtual world for quite some time now. His hate posts date back to a time when he had a few hundred followers on Twitter and went by the name ‘NaMo for PM Bharat’.
Umrao’s influence on social media is not limited to circulating fake news but branches out to fuelling communal hate, religious divide and sexism. Despite him blatantly calling for butchering each and every Muslim to pieces, calling for their public lynching, targeting Sikhs, praising and defending Hitler and Gandhi’s assassin Nathuran Godse, justifying sexual assault and abusing female celebrities, Umrao enjoys substantial popularity in the right-wing ecosystem and continues to circulate misinformation and tasteless content on social media with a certain sense of impunity. Any claim made by Umrao needs to be taken with certain suspicion and cross-checked before believing it.